There are at least 21 million people in the United States 12 years old and older who misuse drugs or alcohol. It’s not really that much of a stretch to conclude that a good number of employees also have a substance use disorder problem. And the numbers support that proposition.
A report by the National Safety Council (NSC) revealed that 7 in 10 employers will be dealing with the consequences of substance use disorder among their workers. In the same vein, 6 in 10 employers think that addiction is a condition that justifies termination from work. Nevertheless, 7 in 10 employers also think that substance use disorder is a disease that necessitates treatment.
The problem is that they are not getting the help that they need. According to the same survey by the NSC, only about 13% of employees say that they can spot symptoms of substance use disorder. That means, 77% need some sort of training in this regard. The problem of substance use disorder in the workplace is already costing employers about $74 billion per year. So clearly, ignoring this issue is not sustainable in the long run.
How Work Can Lead to Substance Use Disorder
Stress can drive somebody mad, and that’s not a figurative speech either. The working environment is a major contributory factor to substance use disorder.
If the following conditions are present in your company, your employees are at risk of turning to alcohol or drugs in order to cope with the demands of the job.
- The worker is in a high-stressed situation all the time
- There’s very little control mechanism from the company’s managers
- The position has high demand (increasing sales quota, for instance)
- The worker clocks in extensive hours
- The shifts are irregular
- The tasks are monotonous and repetitive
- The job is boring due to long hours of inactivity
- No clear career path
- The worker is isolated from the rest of his colleagues by virtue of his task
Lastly, the worker has access to drugs or alcohol.
Signs of an Addicted Employee
There are ways to spot an addicted employee. Mind you, substance use disorder is not always the reason for the following behaviors. But it doesn’t take away the fact that they need an intervention immediately before things turn for the worse. Consider the following signs of addiction.
- The employee is constantly absent without prior permission
- The employee is always applying for a sick leave
- You get plenty of excuses for absenteeism, as well as absences from the work site
- The employee blames everybody for his shortcomings
- Lost productivity
- The performance is very erratic. There are days when the employee is very productive, much more than usual
- Lack of attention
- Bad decisions and poor judgment, even on very basic tasks
- The employee has difficulty concentrating on very mundane tasks
- The lackadaisical approach to work
- The worker comes in with poor hygiene, as well as the lack of interest in grooming
- The employee prefers to be by himself
- A sudden change in behavior
- Figures in work site accidents more than the norm
- Dilated pupils and slurred speech
- Lashes out when confronted
How to Handle an Addicted Employee
At the outset, the company should be clear about its alcohol and drug abuse policy. All employees should know the repercussions if they violate the company policy. A written rule of the company’s drug-free policy is actually recommended by the US Department of Labor.
A confrontational approach may backfire. It’s important that the HR personnel have background training on how to deal with substance use disorder in the workplace. More often than not, addiction doesn’t occur in a vacuum. There may be an underlying cause that pushes that employee to abuse drugs or alcohol.
Ideally, the workplace culture is set up in a way that the employee will feel comfortable enough to open up about their problem. With that said, the company has two choices: endorse the employee for treatment or terminate their services. The question now is: would you face legal repercussions if you fire a worker for addiction?
The four pertinent laws that cover addiction and mental health are:
- The Americans with Disabilities Act (1990)
- The National Labor Relations Act (1935)
- The Family and Medical Leave Act (1993)
- The Civil Rights Act (1964)
One of the takeaways is that you can’t just fire somebody without cause. Employee Assistance Programs should be in place to help the worker turn his life around.